MATCH ANALYSIS: TSS Rovers upset Valour FC 3-1 in magical CanChamp night at Swangard Stadium

Final Score: TSS Rovers 3-1 Valour FC
Goalscorers: Polisi 39′, 62′,Mejia 42′ ; Novak 88′ (pen.)
2023 Canadian Championship
Preliminary Round

Match in a minute or less

TSS Rovers became the first League1 Canada team to beat a professional side in the history of the Canadian Championship on Wednesday, as the 2022 League1 B.C. men’s champions beat Canadian Premier League side Valour FC 3-1 in a memorable preliminary round cup tie at Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium.

Despite being the underdogs on paper, the Rovers came flying out of the gates in this match, boosted by the presence of a strong home crowd. As a result, they were able to open the scoring through a clinical Matteo Polisi finish in the 39th minute, before Ivan Mejia doubled the lead with a powerful strike in the 42nd minute, both assisted by Erik Edwardson.

Then, they wrapped things up in the second half when they made it 3-0 through another clinical Polisi finish, although he then missed a chance to grab a hat trick when he had a penalty saved by Valour’s Rayane Yesli.

From there, however, other than a late Anthony Novak penalty goal that came as part of a push from Valour to get anything out of this game, the Rovers did what they needed to in order to win, marking a victory that will be forever marked in the history books of the Canadian Championship, and for good reason, as they were well-deserved winners on the night.

Three Observations

Clinical Rovers do well to take their chances:

In these sorts of matches, performances can sometimes take the back seat, as execution is where the difference between teams at different levels lies, with good teams often not being ones to miss chances.

Therefore, as the Rovers started strong against Valour, yet were unable to capitalize on any of their early chances, doubt started to set in among the fans at Swangard Stadium. Especially seeing how Valour had started to grow into the game, getting some good looks of their own, it felt like the Rovers were going to get a reality check that many teams get when they play up a level — you have to take your opportunities.

Despite not capitalizing on their early chances, the Rovers were not fazed. Instead, they dug in, defended Valour’s waves of pressure, eager to get after the next chance that would fall for them.

Which when it came, they then made no mistake. After a ball fell to Matteo Polisi following a great flick from Erik Edwardson, Polisi din’t look to put his boot through the ball, or try to rush a shot, as many players might have tried to do.

Instead, he showed why he’s a CPL champion with 39 professional appearances under his belt, and eager to return to that level, doing well to take an extra second to cut inside and slot home on his left foot.

With that, it completely changed the game for the Rovers. All of a sudden, a 1-0 lead became 2-0 as the Rovers ruthlessly finished home another chance, and then Polisi made it 3-0 with another well-taken finish.

Through that, the Rovers showed why it’s important to take your chances.

Firstly, there’s the reality that the longer a game stays tied, teams can punish mistakes in an instance. Then, there’s just the reality that taking an early chance can be a big boost of confidence for a team, one that could be nervous about playing in a match of this magnitude.

Because of all that, safe to say the Rovers were quite thrilled when Polisi’s first shot breached the goal, as from there, they seemed to have wings for the rest of the game.

Boosted on by a strong crowd, their overall performance, and just the belief that they could get an upset, they then made it a reality, making history in the process.

“There is a rare game out there played around the world where you might only get one or two chances, no matter who you’re playing and how you’re playing,” Rovers head coach Will Cromack explained. “So we talked about it, you got to take your chances. We have some lethal guys on our team. And what they did off the ball was incredible, but they knew they’re gonna get their chances, and that we had guys that can take them, and that’s important.”

The xG plot from this game, highlighting the Rovers’ ability to create and convert chances (they’re in black) (OPTA)

Valour fails to find joy in open play:

After a resounding performance in their opening match of the CPL season, as they won 2-0 over York United in a game where they easily could’ve scored more, Valour were eager to build on that performance, especially against a Rovers team that was playing just their first game of the season.

In particular, Valour wanted to build on their offensive performance, as they were lethal against York in open play, looking like they’d done well to overcome some key departures from their attack this offseason.

Because of that, they’ll have to be quite frustrated with how this game went, as not only did they score just one goal (off of a penalty), but just struggled to overall create all that many chances for themselves.

That was shown in the statistics, as while they had 13 shots for a total 1.59 xG, only three of those shots were on target, one of them being the penalty (which is also where most of the xG came from). Considering they had most of the ball in this game, holding 66% of possession, that shows how little penetration they were able to get behind the Rovers defence, getting just 25 touches in their box.

“Yeah, I think we didn’t play fast enough,” Valour head coach, Phil Dos Santos, explained.  “I think that even with our touches everything seemed like we were overthinking things, it was slow, there was not enough rupture. I look at the first half, yes, we had the ball, but we were not effective, and didn’t do much with that possession.”

The action map for this game, showing where the ball was during the game (OPTA)

It’d be one thing for them to play a match like this and to generate a lot of chances but fail to convert them, but for them to thoroughly get outplayed will be a big frustration, as it felt like they could’ve been a bit more dangerous offensively than they were.

In possession, they just didn’t have enough movement to unlock the Rovers defence, and they failed to get into the sort of wide areas where they profited against York. As a result, it allowed the Rovers to be quite comfortable defensively for most of the game, as Valour just didn’t apply enough pressure to threaten their opponents.

Therefore, going forward, it’s definitely an area of worry for Valour. Having seen how good they were in transition against York, and how much they struggled to break down the Rover’s defensive block, future opponents might look at that and potentially look to let Valour to try and break them down.

Especially given that this came from a Rovers team that was outmatched on paper, and hadn’t played a competitive game yet this season, just gives an idea of how important this will be for Valour to tweak going forward, as teams will see this and take note of it.

“I think we just have to look at ourselves, hold ourselves accountable and move on to the next match” Novak added. “When it comes to being in the forward areas, we had problems getting in rhythm. There were a lot of moments where ourselves, including me, could have done better, have a little more detail on things that could’ve been half chances, and those little things add up when you don’t put them together. So the only thing we can do now is to take this and look forward to the next one.”

Little details prove to be crucial for Rovers: 

For a team that hadn’t played together yet this season, the Rovers looked very organized in this game, doing well to stick together as a group.

Plus, that organization came on both sides of the ball, too, as they looked very organized on the counter-attack, while remaining incredibly disciplined in their defensive shape.

As a result, they were able to avoid many of the mistakes that teams typically make when they’re the underdogs, even beyond how clinical they were in front of goal.

For example, defensively, they were extremely disciplined in their 4-2-3-1 shape, doing well to move as a unit. Because of that, they didn’t get stretched out, as Valour tried to move them with lateral passes, and attempted to stretch them with long balls.

Then, when they got the ball, they did well to pick their spots. They aimed to play vertically whenever possible, taking advantage of the fact that Valour was sending forward plenty of numbers to try and break them down, but also did well to pick their spots, too, knowing when to string a few passes around first.

Plus, when they got the ball into the final third, there was real purpose about how they wanted to attack, as they knew where to find space, and when to attack it. On all three goals, they did well to just run at Valour, and did well to execute the opportunities to make a dribble, pass or shot.

Yet, that can be a credit to their overall approach. Often, matches between teams at different levels can come down to details, as professional teams know how to limit mistakes and pick their spots, whereas semi-professional and amateur teams can sometimes get excited and open themselves up to key errors.

“We talked in the lead-up to the game that we were just going to take it minute by minute,” Polisi said after the game. “We know it’s going to be a 90 minute game, so we just took it moment by moment, and we knew that I knew that we were gonna get chances, we knew that we knew that we were going to have to be clinical, on both ends of the park in both boxes, and I think that we did that.”

The Rovers average position from this game, showing their organized shape (OPTA)

In this game, however, the Rovers had no issues with that, and that was a credit to how they approached this game. They came out aggressively, knew how they were going to attack Valour, and then nailed their game plan to perfection.

That ended up being the difference, which is a credit to Cromack, as well as the experience that this team has in this group, not just at higher levels, but also together as a unit.

Going forward, as they head into tougher games, that will be something that they’ll look to keep up, as it certainly paid off for them in this game.

“On day one, we said to our guys, you’ve got to know your place. This game doesn’t owe you anything. You got to respect this game every step of the way,” Cromack explained of his team’s approach. “We knew that we had to defend, as that’s not abnormal to see in this type of competition.”

“Yesterday, you saw a (Vaughan) team with 25% possession, and most of that was under duress. So we knew that was gonna happen to us, we expected that. We talked about suffering, and we talked about enjoying suffering. And I think you watched guys out there dying for each other, which is a form of enjoying suffering, and look what they got out of it, it’s incredible.” Player of the Match

Matteo Polisi, TSS Rovers

His first game with the Rovers since 2019, Polisi had a game to remember in his return to his old club. Wearing the captain’s armband, the 2021 CPL champion showed his pedigree with a well-taken brace, and will feel frustrated to not have grabbed the hat trick after missing a penalty up 3-0, as he was otherwise excellent every time he got the ball in the final third.

All of Matteo Polisi’s actions from this game (OPTA)

What’s next?

Having advanced to the next round with this win, the TSS Rovers will play the winner of in the quarter-finals of the Canadian Championship in the week of May 9 to 11. In the meantime, Valour will take on Atlético Ottawa in their home opener at IG Field on Saturday, April 22 (6 p.m. CT/7 p.m. ET), while the Rovers will kick off their League1 B.C. campaign against Nautsa’mawt FC on April 29.

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